My Spitzbergen Experience by Sue Bevan
Arriving into Longyearbyen at midnight to bright sunshine and blue skies was an extremely odd sensation. Even though I was aware of the 24 hour daylight, I must admit I was expecting at least a little bit of change in the light!
The next day we transferred from the hotel to our ship. Our arrival went very smoothly as we were met on the gangway and directed to our cabins. Once everyone was on board we had an introduction to the ship and (extremely friendly) crew. Our group consisted of 74 people - a good mixture of couples and single travellers with ages ranging from early 20’s to mid-70’s. The ship was really comfortable and our cabins had a surprising amount of space. The food onboard was absolutely fantastic - buffet breakfasts, 3-course lunches and 4-course dinner! Plus afternoon tea! There was a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian and any other special requests could be catered for. The problem with all this really good food was the expanding waistlines!
Days were filled with either zodiac cruises along the coast or actual shore landings. This varied on where we were and landings could be halted if polar bears were sighted! There were normally two outings a day which could last about 3 hours. During the times when cruises or landings were not possible then film shows or presentations were arranged. So that we did not miss anything we were updated daily on what was happening during mealtimes and notices were also placed around the ship. And of course there was the ever-present tannoy! Whenever any wildlife was spotted it was announced via the tannoy then there was a mass exodus to the deck with cameras. This may sound like mayhem but there were actually plenty of viewing spaces so there was never a problem in catching that elusive arctic fox or bear.
The scenery was quite stark but stunning, and when the ship was pushing its way through the icefields the noise was incredible! The size and colours of the ice flows and icebergs were amazing and the depths that they reached beneath the water unbelievable. Walrus were frequently spotted – lazily wallowing around on the shore. There were also plenty of birds and also whales, though you had to move quickly to snap them.
The highlight for me was seeing polar bears in their natural habitat. What can I say? Awesome, beautiful, graceful.....Polar bears provided very special experiences for all on board and we felt privileged to witness these majestic beasts as sightings are never guaranteed.
I must admit the thought of doing a cruise such as this on one of the larger cruise boats fills me with horror. We did see one ship that held over 3000 passengers - the size was incredible and it totally swamped the landscape. The best part of being on a smaller ship is that when landings are arranged then ALL passengers can participate. This would be difficult on a large ship as there is a limit of 100 people that can land at any one time. Larger ships also have problems accessing some of the smaller tributaries.
All in all it was a simply fantastic trip with phenomenal scenery, incredible wildlife sightings, a brilliant crew - and of course a fantastic chef!
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